Staying on Budget During a Vacation

Next week I take one last trip abroad before I start working full time in January. Starting a new job means I will be working extra hard to show my excitement, motivation, and willingness to be part of my new team. This also means not taking time off for six months! Traveling is one of my strongest passions, so I want to enjoy my last few weeks of freedom by going to Switzerland and London for the first time!

Since I am not working yet and my savings are dwindling, you can bet I am trying to keep my trip as affordable (but fun!) as possible. I am so grateful that one of my closest friends is hosting me in Switzerland, which cuts down on hotel costs immensely.


To plan my initial budget I followed the steps mentioned in the Realistic Savings Goal: Travel Edition post. Now I have finished planning the trip and have a pretty good idea of how much it will cost, I need to focus on staying on budget while on the vacation.

Keeping to the budget while adventuring is one of the troublesome parts of traveling. I know I can easily get carried away by fun spur-of-the-moment activities or buying things I cannot get at home! This post will share tips and tricks to remaining aware of your spending throughout the trip while also getting the most out of your vacation.

4 Budgeting Tips: Before the Vacation

  1. Plan your vacation goals:
    1. This one sounds silly, but determining ahead of time what you want most out of your trip can help you make money-saving decisions later on, especially if you are on the fence on whether or not to spend for a certain experience or thing.
    2. Ideas for Vacation Goals
      1. Exploring the local cuisine
      2. Engaging in a new culture
      3. Relaxing
      4. Learning something new
      5. Experiencing nature
      6. Taking the best photographs
      7. Trying out extreme sports
      8. Etc!
  2. Plan your food options:
    1. Food can be the most expensive parts of a vacation. If you research beforehand the most affordable and tastiest restaurants around your area for a specific day, you can be sure to not only choose the best option, but take out the stress of last-minute disappointing meals!
    2. Packing easy snacks like nuts or granola bars will help to keep your energy high when you start to get hungry, which allows you more time to find the best food option instead of hangrily (hungry/angry) choosing the closest, and probably not cheapest, restaurant.
    3. Going to the local grocery stores can also be a fun way to learn about local culture and save on food costs. You can buy snacks like mentioned above, or also cook your own meals depending on where you are staying.
    4. Eating larger lunches and taking advantage of lunch specials is also a great way to spend less on the expensive dinner options.
    5. If you are traveling with someone, meeting new people at a hostel, or staying with foreign friends, consider offering to cook meals together or splitting meals. This is a great way to learn more about different foods while expanding your options to try!
  3. Plan your time carefully (or be flexible):
    1. Having to rush from one location to the next can cost you five to ten times the amount you were going to spend on transportation. Planning beforehand can be the difference between a $3 subway ride or a $30 taxi ride. Consider this when choosing hotel check in/outs, timed tours, and meal reservations.
    2. Plan your activities each day in similar areas to give yourself an opportunity to walk from location to location and save money. This way you can get a feel for the city and find things off the beaten path.
  4. Plan your suitcase carefully:
    1. Forgetting clothes or hygiene products can add up, especially in a foreign country. If you are leaving on a long trip or to a distant location, think about building a list of items you want to pack a week in advance so that you will not forget in the pre-trip packing stress. Be sure to check the weather, and don’t forget to pack your toothbrush!
    2. Deciding not to check a bag into your flight can save you money. Having a lighter bag will also allow you to walk or take public transportation stress-free instead of making you consider calling a taxi to lug around your heavy suitcase. Even for month-long trips in cold weather, trust me, you can fit everything in a carry-on.


4 Budgeting Tricks: During the Vacation

  1. Make friends:
    1. Meeting locals or fellow travelers can be a great way to learn about those hidden cheap restaurants, free sights, and must-do experiences that are worth spending your money.
    2. More people also means more people to pitch in! Some sights have group deals and you can order family-style at restaurants instead of paying for your food individually. Also, you are more likely to enjoy spending time picnicking in a free park or cooking together, which will save you cash!
  2. Keep a journal to record daily spending:
    1. Making a note in your phone or small notebook each time you spend money is an easy way to record your costs throughout the day. This also makes you stop and think on whether or not you should spend money on this particular item or experience.
    2. Every night, add up the totals to see if you are on track. If you happen to splurge, maybe be more cautious the next day.
    3. Keep in mind international credit card fees and exchange rates when calculating the total.
  3. Think twice before buying souvenirs:
    1. I truly believe new experiences are more valuable than souvenirs.
    2. An alternative to souvenirs, and a great present for family and friends, is a hard copy of your travel photos. I use which links directly to my Instagram account and costs about $15 for a 60 page, 6×6 inch book of my photos. Hard copies of photographs are personalized and unique, but still have the feel of a traditional souvenir. You also don’t have to fit it in your suitcase!
    3. If you do like souvenirs and have the time, pop into a few stores in the area to see where you can get the best price and the best selection. If you are in a rush or are unsure, just consider: “Will I regret it if I leave without this?”
  4. On the other hand, you should also never be afraid to “Treat Yo’ Self”:
    1. You may not get the opportunity to return to that location in the future so please give yourself leeway to buy and try new things. If you do happen to go over budget, just be sure to keep that in mind when you return home and cut back on going out to eat and shopping for a few weeks. The experiences are worth it!

I hope you have a wonderful (and on-budget) vacation!! Please share your tips and tricks to staying on budget by reaching out via my Contact Form or joining the Sophie Explains community on Facebook. Thank you!!

Google Spreadsheets 101: The Basics

Spreadsheets are one of my favorite organizational tools because they are fun and easy to use! I use Google Spreadsheets to budget, store my favorite recipes, create travel itineraries, make shopping lists, organize potluck dinners with friends, and more. Spreadsheets are a quick and simple way to efficiently store, organize, and share data.

In the new series “Google Spreadsheets 101,” I will share the tips and tricks to make using spreadsheets an effortless part of your everyday life.

The first five tips you see below answer some questions you have asked about customizing the starter budgeting spreadsheet. In the beginning, spreadsheets may seem overwhelming and cumbersome, but they can become a fun part of your budgeting process!

Tip 1: Overview of a Google Spreadsheet

First, let us review the main parts of a spreadsheet using Google Spreadsheets.

  • Name: If you click on this you can edit the name of the spreadsheet directly.
  • Toolbar: You can format the look of the spreadsheet with colors, borders, number formatting, etc.
  • Function Box: This allows you to perform functions such as summing a set of numbers to find a total value. See the complete list of functions here.
  • Column/Rows: These make up the body of the spreadsheet.
  • Tabs: You can create new sheets within one spreadsheet to group relevant data.

Tip 2: Freezing Columns

The first step when starting a new spreadsheet is to determine how you want to use it. Will it be a simple shopping list, an itinerary for your trip, a new budget? This will help you determine which headers you need. Start by filling in the main headers. You can freeze the first column so that whenever you scroll to the right on your spreadsheet, the headers are always showing. You can also freeze the top rows as well.

Tip 3: Adding Columns

If you want to add a new column simply right click on the top of the column (with the letter) then click insert to the left/right depending on where you want to place the new column. If you have a specific formatted set up that you want to implement in your new column (like colored highlights or bolding), you can also right click, copy the appropriate column, and paste it in your new column to duplicate its format. This is also true with rows.

Tip 4: Creating a “Sum” Formula

The most common reason to use a spreadsheet is to take advantage of its handy formulas. For example, if you want to add up all you spent last month, you may use a “sum” formula. In a new box on the spreadsheet, write “=sum(” (without the quotations) and then highlight all the boxes you want to add up. If you want to add the numbers in the boxes in a row or column, just drag your cursor along the row. If you want it to add up boxes that are not connecting, hold the “ctrl” button on your keyboard and click the selection of boxes to add up.

Later on you may need to double check that your formula is adding the correct boxes, especially if you add new rows or columns. Double click on the box that has the “sum” formula. In the function box at the top of the screen you will see which boxes it is adding. It should also highlight those boxes in different colors on the spreadsheet to help you easily identify any boxes missing from the sum formula.

Tip 5: Duplicating a Tab

I prefer to keep my budget spreadsheet organized with a new tab for each month so that I can easily review a year’s expenses. To create a new month’s spreadsheet, right click on the appropriate tab at the bottom of the screen and select duplicate. A “copy” of that tab will appear, and you can double click to update the name of the new tab. Keep in mind that this will duplicate all the information of the previous tab, so I suggest duplicating clean tabs without any of your monthly data before putting in the information.

If you have any other questions about using Google Spreadsheets please contact me through the blog’s Contact page or Facebook page. No question is too small! I will answer the subsequent group of questions in the next installment of the “Google Spreadsheets 101” series. Thank you!